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Posted on on April 26th, 2012
by Pincas Jawetz (

Jorge Castaneda Gutman, in short Jorge Castaneda, is a Mexican intellectual, an author and politician. He was Mexico’s Foreign Minister 2000-2003 and fought to become a candidate for the presidency in 2006.

Castañeda’s political career began as a member of the Mexican Communist Party but he has since moved to the political center. He served as an advisor to Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas during his failed presidential campaign in 1988, and advised Vicente Fox during his successful presidential campaign in 2000. After winning the election, Fox appointed Castañeda as his Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Following a number of disagreements with other cabinet members he left the post in January 2003 and began traveling around the country, giving lectures and promoting his ideas.

On March 25, 2004, Castañeda officially announced his presidential campaign by means of a prime-time campaign advertisement carried in all major Mexican television stations. Castañeda presented himself as an independent “citizens’ candidate,”  a move contrary to Mexico’s electoral law – that gives registered parties alone the right to nominate candidates for election.

In 2004 Castañeda started to seek Court authorization to run in the country’s 2006 presidential election without the endorsement of any of the registered political parties. In August 2005 the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled against Castañeda’s appeal. The ruling essentially put an end to Castañeda’s bid to run as an independent candidate, however soon after this ruling he took his case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in order to defend his political rights; as of 2008, the case is pending before the IACHR.

He graduated from the Lycée Franco-Mexicain in Mexico City. Then after receiving his B.A. from Princeton University and a Ph.D. in Economic History from the University of Paris (Panthéon-La Sorbonne) he worked as a professor at several universities, including the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the University of California, Berkeley, Princeton University, New York University, and the University of Cambridge. He was a Bernard Schwartz fellow at The New America Foundation. Castaneda feels comfortable in the company of young intelligent students and seems to enjoy the life in the academe more then anything else. Seeing him and listening to his words he reminds us of the way intellectuals used to debate the world in the glory days of Paris.

Castaneda wrote a highly readable assessment of leftist politics, Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left After the Cold War (Vintage Books, 1993). The book has had a wide readership in Latin America and elsewhere for its intelligent, sometimes controversial, overview of leftist politics in Latin America, after the fall of the Soviet Union; see History of the Soviet Union (1982–1991). The book provides a reliable historical account of leftist movements in Latin America, often spiked with lively anecdotes. The main theme is a shift from politics based on the Cuban Revolution to broad-based new social movements, from armed revolutions to elections. Another well known work of his is Companero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara, which offers a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the Argentine Marxist revolutionary.

It is remarkable that  this highly unusual politician was the choice of the Marian B. and Jacob K. Javits Foundation for being the 2012 Visiting Professor at the NYU School of Arts and Sciences, and Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University.

New York Senator Jacob Koppel Javits was himself a great Liberal-Republican politician. The man with vision in whose days the party was, thanks to him and his wing of the party, in the center of American politics beholden to all of America’s citizens, and kept the United States open to the world at large. Mr. Javits was Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the 21-st District, 1947 – 1954; New York State Attorney General 1955-1957 under Governor W. Averell Harriman – his opponent was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. running as a Democrat; United States Senator from New York, 1957-1981 –  His  opponent was the popular Mayor of New York, Robert F. Wagner.

Javits liked to think of himself as a political descendant of  Theodore Roosevelt‘s  Progressive Republicanism. As attorney general, Javits promoted a liberal agenda, supporting such measures as antibias employment legislation and a health insurance program for state employees. In the Senate Javits was in effect the most outspoken Republican liberal in Congress.  Increasingly concerned about the erosion of congressional authority in foreign affairs, Javits is best remembered for his sponsoring the 1973 War Powers Act, which limited to sixty days a president’s ability to send American armed forces into combat without congressional approval.

Mrs. Javits and two of her three  children, Joshua and Carla (Joy was not there), were present at NYU, along with a room-full of students and candidates for higher degrees, listening to Jorge Castaneda speaking of “BRICs, HUMAN RIGHTS, and the INTERNATIONAL LEGAL ORDER.” The program note that I received from the Foreign Press Club of the US Department of State noted that Jorge Castaneda will deliver the 2012 Jacob K. Javits Visiting Professorship Lecture – and that “Castaneda contends that a retooled international order would be far more representative of the distribution of power in the world today, but it is not clear whether it would be better.”

The lecture started by Professor Castaneda introducing the term BRICs  – big letters for Brazil, Russia, India and China, and a small “s” for the fact that this was a plural group. He told us that this was an invention in April 2002 – or about exactly ten years ago, by a Golman-Sachs economist who was saying that those four States will become good places for investment.           At start this was thus not a political grouping at all. The economics factor starts with the observation that two of these states hold 2.5 billion people out of the global population of 7 billion, another State, Russia, is a previous well organized State that enters now the global economy anew, and the fourth member, Brazil, is a newly organizes State after the departure of the generals. Urbanization, literacy campaign etc. are fast moving Brazil to its potential in the global economy – this was the new kid on the bloc – as he put it in terms of trade, internal consumption, growing clout etc.

The big “S” in BRICS came in later when the subject became political That is when under UN General-Secretary Kofi Annan, an effort was started first with the Millennium Development Goals, followed fast with efforts to restructure the UN and specifically the UN Security Council.

Theoretically the 5 winners of World War II formed the group of 5 Permanent Members of the SC which granted to themselves the powers of being able to Veto what they do not like.

Castaneda said that the US and the Soviet Union were the winners indeed, and to some extent also the UK, but even then France and China were questionable members of the small list of so called winners in the war itself. Then, to make things worse, China had its internal war and the UN recognized till 1972 the China of Chiang Kai Shek.

As new economic post-war powers evolved, take Japan and Germany, then demands by an India, as large as China, became more vociferous, and we like to add something that Mr. Castaneda did not say – the fact that the original Permanent 5 were the only original nuclear power States was broken by India and Pakistan – led to demands to let in to that club of leaders also India, Germany, Japan and Brazil – that is a group of four pretenders – the new P4. Looking around, that left Africa still out – so, going not just by size of population, as that would have favored Nigeria, but by sympathy for a State that evolved well under global solid attention – here came in the “S” for South Africa.

The only changes in the Security Council were the enlargement from 12 to 15 in order to make place for newly decolonized Nations in Asia and Africa, and the switch of the China seat from Taiwan to Mainland China (With the brake-up of the USSR – similarly the seat at the UNSC was given to Russia – but these are not real changes). Besides of this – the only change that really happened to our BRICs narrative in economic terms – now also political terms – is that the BRICs become BRICS out of which China and Russia are already part of the Permanent five, so that this requires further consideration only for Brazil and  India, the obvious Germany and Japan, and the new addition of South Africa.

Professor Castaneda did not touch the subject of the EU and the open question of three of its members as part of the now – leading ten. But the lecture’s direction was now moving to the inclusion of concepts of Human Rights that go beyond the question of economics.

The questions of equity move from the Security Council to the World Bank and the IMF and considering that the money is with China, India, Brazil,  and hardly with Belgium, here you must consider how it is  that Belgium had higher clout in those institutions then the real money States?

Now – thinking of BRICS also in political and Human Rights terms – will the larger inclusion of these States help the Human Rights / Democracy issues in a fairer global strategy? But besides the Western Definition of Human Rights, we find that Russia, China, even Brazil and others, have their own definition of Human Rights. Yes, India, South Africa, and Brazil are democracies, but will their understanding of Human Rights help in the global context? True enough – nobody has a perfect record on Human Rights, not even the US when you think about Guantanamo – and the President of Brazil Ms. Dilma Rouseff  just mentioned this particular view in her presentation at Harvard.

Latin America and others, are against interventionism. There was experience they had – specially with the United States. Brazil is an exponent of this point of view. South Africa has fought apartheid for 30 years with the help of public opinion abroad and with their own struggle at home.

Other issues with global importance – such as Climate change and Global Warming have to be solved  in a multilateral approach. These new potential members of the global leadership are also not well positioned for cooperation – and Professor Castaneda said that at Copenhagen they were not really cooperative. The same is true for Nuclear non-Proliferation.  The obvious question he put before us was – why is it OK for India and Pakistan to have such weapons and not for Iran? And he told us of Turkey and Brazil having tried to tone down the fears of allowing for a nuclear Iran – this with the obvious conclusion that allowing for more power to these important States is no guarantee that these important global problems will be easier to deal with.

The Indians are easy on Iran because they want the gas that comes through a newly constructed pipe-line.  Then the Responsibility-to-Protect – the R2P – is something that they accept – but only if it is not an excuse for interventionism. The Libyan experience now holds them back from cooperation on Syria. President Rousett said at Harvard that she has respect for Hugo Chavez and does not like intervention. What if military deposes the Chavez faction in Venezuela?

Rousett said that – “yes, I will protect Human Rights but I cannot stop police violence in my country,” quoted Mr. Castaneda. She continued “I cannot defend Guantanamo – but I know that there is something of it in every country.”

But then, in the 1970’s her predecessor and mentor – Mr. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – was in prison and was being tortured – it was all over the world and there were demonstrations that put pressure on the Brazilian generals. It is the international civil society that can influence governments. Yes, Brazil used to say that it owns the Amazonas and can do with them as they please, but now they have to level of with the outside world. Brazil may want to have a missile like other States – this to prove a point that they can do as they please – this will not help non-proliferation – but it is my hope – and that it is this writer saying so – Brazil may find then that there are other areas that they can relent from going overboard in insistence of sovereign rights. India has changed her position in relation to Sri Lanka for example.

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